This Yom Kippur Martyrology ritual was written by Tzedek Chicago rabbinic intern May Ye and myself and was used in observance of our Yom Kippur service last week.
Reader: It is traditional at the end of the Yom Kippur morning service to read a Martyrology that describes the executions of ten leading rabbis, including Rabbi Akiba, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel and Rabbi Yishmael, who were brutally executed by the Roman Empire. This liturgy is included to honor those who have paid the ultimate price for the cause of “Kiddush Hashem” – the sanctification of God’s name.
At Tzedek Chicago, we devote the Yom Kippur Martyrology to honor specific individuals throughout the world who have given their lives for the cause of liberation. As we do, we ask ourselves honestly: what have we done to prove ourselves worthy of their profound sacrifices? And what kinds of sacrifices will we be willing to make in the coming year to ensure they did not die in vain?
This year, we will dedicate our Martyrology service to the Palestinians in Gaza who have been killed by the Israeli military during the Great Return March. This nonviolent demonstration began last spring with a simple question: “What would happen if thousands of Gazans, most of them refugees, attempted to peacefully cross the fence that separated them from their ancestral lands?”
Since the first day of the march last spring, demonstrators have consistently been met by live fire from the Israeli military. To date, 170 Palestinians have been killed and tens of thousands wounded and maimed, most of them unarmed demonstrators, including children, medics and bystanders.
Reader: The words of Ahmed Abu Artemi, one of the organizers of the Great Return March:
“On that day in December, as I watched the birds fly over the border I could not cross, I found myself thinking how much smarter birds and animals are than people; they harmonize with nature instead of erecting walls. Later that day, I wondered on Facebook what would happen if a man acted like a bird and crossed that fence. ‘Why would Israeli soldiers shoot at him as if he is committing a crime?’ I wrote. My only thought was to reach the trees, sit there and then come back…
What has happened since we started the Great Return March is both what I hoped and expected — and not. It was not a surprise that Israel responded to our march with deadly violence. But I had not expected this level of cruelty. On the other hand, I was heartened by the commitment to nonviolence among most of my own people.
We have come together, chanting and singing a lullaby we’ve all longed for— ‘We will return’ bringing all that we have left to offer in an attempt to reclaim our right to live in freedom and justice.”
Reader: The words of Khuloud Suliman, a 23 year old woman who studies English language and literature at the Islamic University of Gaza:
“My hometown is Al-Jiyya, which means ‘delightful place full of flowers and trees.’ It is very near here, just 20 km from Gaza City. When I get close to the northern border of Gaza, I can see the village. Yet I cannot go there. I am not allowed to touch the sand and smell the fragrance of citrus fruit, figs and grapes. I cannot walk in the valley that separated my village into two halves, and that filled with rain in winter.
Can you imagine how I feel when this image comes to my mind? I feel hatred toward the Israeli occupation and the settlers who live in the land from which my ancestors were expelled. Every day, mum tells me about it and my yearning for the village begins to invade my heart. I do not have even one picture of my village, so I Googled its name, hoping to find some images. But, unfortunately, I found only pictures of the Israeli settlement that replaced it. When I see other countries where the residents live in peace and comfort, I think of the situation here and ask myself, ‘Will I even be alive when we can return to our cities? Will I ever be able to enjoy a homeland like everyone else?’”
Reader: We will now learn about four of the almost 170 Palestinians who have been killed by the Israeli military since the Great March of Return began last spring. After each of the readings, we invite you to join us in singing a niggun adapted from the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement. It was sung as protesters were being taken to jail and was also uses as a method by prisoners to learn the names of others in the cells.
After each reading, we will insert the name of that Palestinian martyr into the niggun.
Reader: Tahrir Mahmoud Wahba, 18 years old.
Tahrir, a deaf and mute teen, was shot and killed while participating in the Great March of Return. He died of his wounds on April 1 in a village east of Khan Younis, in the southern part of the Gaza strip.
After he died, Tahrir’s mother told the press,
“My son cannot speak or hear, and I frequently tried to prevent him from protesting near the border area. But he would get angry, and would shake his head, refusing to stay home, and insisting on being part of the struggle.”
We sing: Tahrir, my friend, you do not walk alone. We will walk with you and sing your spirit home.
Reader: Yasser Mortaja, 31 years old.
One of Gaza’s best known photo/video journalists, Yasser was killed on April 1 by Israeli forces who shot him in his abdomen – below his ‘PRESS’ flack jacket – while he was out covering the border protest in East Khan Younis.
Shortly before he died, Yassar posted this tweet: “I wish I could take this picture from the air. My name is Yasser. I am 30 years old. I live in Gaza. I have never travelled.” Yassar’s mother said: ” I was sad he wanted to leave Gaza Strip. Now he’s left Gaza for the sky,”
We sing: Yasser, my friend, you do not walk alone. We will walk with you and sing your spirit home.
Reader: Razan al-Najjar, 21 years old.
Razan was a volunteer paramedic who was shot and killed on June 1 near Khan Younis while wearing her white medic’s uniform. She had been less than 100 yards from the fence bandaging a man who was struck by a tear gas canister.
Razan wanted to prove that women were able to play an active role in the struggle. During an interview last May, she said, “Being a medic is not only a job for a man. It’s for women, too. Women are often judged. But society has to accept us. If they don’t want to accept us by choice, they will be forced to accept us. Because we have more strength than any man.”
We sing: Razan, my friend, you do not walk alone. We will walk with you and sing your spirit home.
Reader: Mohammad Na’im Hamada, 30 years old.
Mohammad was shot with live fire east of Gaza City. He was rushed to a Palestinian hospital and his condition apparently witnessed a brief partial recovery.
A few days before his death he celebrated his daughter’s sixth birthday from his hospital bed, but his condition deteriorated and he later died from his wounds.
We sing: Mohammad, my friend, you do not walk alone. We will walk with you and sing your spirit home.